I don’t want to be overly dramatic. We’re so used to hearing exaggerated speech these days that I think most of us tune it out. And in a world full of violence, to equate mere words with flying bullets seems like just more over-the-top hyperbole trying and failing by its very nature to make the point. Yet if more of us took the same care with our words as we would with a loaded gun, much pain and suffering could be avoided. We all bear the wounds. Time can heal them, but they always leave scars. As you can never put the bullet back into the gun once it has been fired, you can never recall a word once spoken.
When it comes to guns, we get it. Some of us are unduly afraid of them, but we all do well to treat them with appropriate caution. We take care to keep children from getting hurt with them. We don’t point them at things or people we don’t want to shoot. We make sure that people who want to carry them know how to use them safely. They are weapons with which people can be killed. No sane individual believes they should be used and handled carelessly.
When it comes to words, we don’t get it. They fly out so easily. They don’t require thought or preparation. We learn to use them as children, and some of us never get beyond using them as children do. We are prepared for war, and we shoot at the slightest provocation. We treat words cheaply. We play with dangerous weapons like a child who believes he has a toy when in fact he has the real thing. There are a few of us with enough power to kill the body, by proxy, with the spoken word. All of us have the power to kill the spirit. I speak metaphorically of course in the latter sense. Only God has that power in reality.
Please don’t be careless with your words. You may never know how they affect those around you. Not to mention your own life. Look at what James writes in the Bible.
2 For we all stumble in many ways If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. (James 3:2-6)
I hate to see anything taken out of its context, so I feel compelled to know that this chapter begins, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” This is an admonishment specifically directed at those of us who are drawn or called to teach others. We especially must guard what we say, because we have been given a greater sphere of influence. Nevertheless, the teaching is true for everyone. Take care how you use your words.